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Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Big Bucks for NextGen Aviation and Alternative Jet Fuels

Maybe it’s time to get serious about the development of alternative jet fuels as a way to aid both the airline industry and the environment, or at least throw more barrels of money at it. That is the American way, isn’t it?

The Federal Aviation Administration last week selected a group of universities to run a new Air Transportation Center of Excellence (COE) for alternate jet fuels and the environment. The COE, with Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the lead universities, will explore ways to meet the environmental and energy goals that make up a large part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen. The FAA says NextGen is the “transformation of how airplanes traverse the sky,” affecting pilots, passengers, air controllers and the aircraft.

The government-university partnership supports President Obama’s plan to address climate change, said Anthony Foxx, secretary of transportation. “The Center of Excellence will tap talented universities to help us take environmentally friendly, alternative jet fuel technology to the next level,” he said. “Airlines and their customers will both benefit from their work developing cleaner fuel that supports the environment and continued aviation growth.”

COE partners include Boston University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, the University of Dayton, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Tennessee.

Their R&D efforts will focus on NextGen environmental goals for noise, air quality, climate change and energy, including new aircraft technologies and sustainable alternative aviation jet fuels. FAA targets include improvement of National Airspace System energy efficiency by at least 2 percent per year and to “develop and deploy” alternative jet fuels for commercial aviation to the tune of one billion gallons in use by 2018, according to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

The COE program is a cost-sharing research partnership among academia, industry and the federal government, with the FAA funding the COE with $4 million a year over the life of the 10-year program.

COE industry and other organizational partners include: Aerodyne Research, Airbus/EADS, Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Cathay Pacific Airways, Clean Energy Trust, CSSI, Delta Air Lines, General Electric Aircraft Engines, Gevo, Gulfstream, Harris Miller Miller & Hanson, Honeywell UOP, InnovaTek, KiOr, LanzaTech, Metron Aviation, NREL – National Bioenergy Center, PNNL, Rolls Royce, SAFRAN, U.S. DoD – AFRL (Wright Patterson Air Force Base), UTRC (Pratt and Whitney), Weyerhaeuser, Wyle Laboratories and ZeaChem.

Since 1990, the FAA has teamed with more than 75 universities to establish COEs in other aviation areas focusing on commercial space transportation, airliner cabin environment and intermodal research, aircraft noise and aviation emissions mitigation, advanced materials, general aviation, airworthiness assurance, operations research, airport pavement and airport technology, and computational modeling of aircraft structures.

In 2010, U.S. airlines used 47.4 million gallons of fuel a day, and that total rose to 48.3 million gallons per day through November 2011, at a cost of nearly $50 billion. That’s about 17.6 billion gallons per year. So the goal of using one billion gallons of alternate jet fuels by 2018 is pretty much a drop in the barrel; but if it happens it will be a very good start.

[Image: Biofuel flight ready for boarding at Melbourne Airport by Jetstar Airways via Flickr cc]

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

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